The 5-Steps to Risk Assessment in the Australian Workplace

Australian serious claim frequency rate in 2017 is lower by 29% than it used to be in 2006. This trend is quite positive and it means that the constant efforts to create the safer workplace in Australia are giving good results.

Those efforts include introducing well-designed legislation, guides and manuals. It has never been easier for an Australian business owner to get all the necessary information, guidelines, training and even help to make their workplace as safe as possible for their employees.

Another element of safety is trained and responsible workforce. Namely, the law, Work Health and Safety Act (WHS Act) recognises and defines a Person Conducting a Business or a Person Responsible for a Business Unit (PCBU).

They have many obligations since they are those that need to reinforce all the necessary rules in the workplace. This is quite challenging, but also unavoidable. Safety comes first and there has to be somebody in the company to help that happen.

While the WHS Act is the basis, it is not 100% same across Australia. The differences in requirements across the States and Territories of Australia and the changes which are made to the Act from time to time can be confusing.

Some PCBUs can find it challenging to keep up, but the alternative is much worse – risking injuries and fines. Start from the Guide to First Aid Compliance and go from there.

To help businesses, Safe Work Australia, the leading body responsible for the development of policy to improve the health and safety of workers across the country has brought out a series of Model Codes of Practice.

These are practical guides for workplaces, developed to help workplaces ‘achieve the standards of health, safety and welfare required under the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act and the WHS Regulations in a jurisdiction.’

Risk Assessment at Workplaces

One of the very practical and useful Model Codes of Practice published by Safe Work Australia is managing the risks to health and safety at the workplace. It is the duty of every single business in Australia to identify hazards, their associated risks and then to manage them in order to produce a safer workplace for their employees, visitors and the people around them.

The complete Code of Practice on How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks is available on the Safe Work Australia website. You may also confirm with your relevant work health and safety regulator whether the code of practice has been approved and has legal effect in your jurisdiction.

The assessment of risk is a basic requirement for every factory, firm, enterprise, company, office, warehouse, shop or establishment across the nation and is the starting point for compliance with the WHS Act.

What are the 5-steps to risk assessment?

The risk assessment process can be broken down into 5 steps.

Step 1 – Start by identifying hazards

A hazard is anything that may cause harm. It could be a physical object like toxic chemicals, fast moving objects or a situation like being present in extreme temperatures or noise. The hazards may cause harm to either a worker or to property.

Hazards may be categorised as:


  • These may further be classified as those caused by:
    • Manual Tasks – lifting or awkward postures which may cause overexertion or muscular strain.
    • Falls and Trips – which may end up causing fractures, bruises, lacerations, dislocations, concussion, permanent injuries or even fatalities.
    • Moving Objects – being hit by moving vehicles, or being caught by moving parts of machinery can cause fractures, bruises, lacerations, dislocations, permanent injuries or death.
    • Extreme Temperatures and Noise – heat can cause burns, heat stroke or fatigue. Cold can cause hypothermia or frostbite. Exposure to loud noise can lead to higher stress levels and even cause permanent hearing damage.

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Mental or Psychosocial:

  • Excess workload, long hours, working with high-need clients, etc. These are also called ‘psychosocial’ hazards, affecting mental health and occurring within working relationships. The presence of bullying and violence in workplaces also harm workers.

Chemical and Electrical:

  • Exposure to live electrical wires can cause shock, burns or death from electrocution. Toxic chemicals (such as acids, hydrocarbons, heavy metals) and dust (such as asbestos and silica) can cause respiratory illnesses, cancers or dermatitis. Ultraviolet, welding arc flashes, microwaves, and lasers can cause burns, cancer or blindness.

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  • Microorganisms can cause hepatitis, Legionnaires ’ disease, Q fever, HIV/AIDS or allergies and other infectious diseases. These are typically faced by healthcare workers, home care staff and other health care professionals; however, an unhygienic facility can expose all its workers to such diseases.

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Locating Hazards

Different methods can be used to identify the hazards present.

Walk and Inspect:

Make it a habit to walk around your workplace and to observe. Look at the people while they are working, how the plant and equipment are being used, notice the presence of substances being stored or transported and even how people interact with each other.

It is important to keep your eyes and ears open to the presence of anything which may possibly cause harm. Do this regularly and, at times, get a different person to do this so that they may notice things which you may overlook.

Consult with Workers:

Ask your workers for health and safety problems which they may have either encountered or they feel concerned about. Seek their feedback about near misses or accidents which often go unreported.

There are different ways to consult workers at a workplace. Choose the method or methods which work the best for your organisation.

Analyse Records and Available Information:

There is a wealth of information available, including industry-specific information, which can be used to identify hazards. Regulators, industry associations, workers unions, specialists and safety consultants are a treasure house of such information and must be tapped.

Hazards associated with particular types of equipment, machinery, chemicals, processes are almost always documented and available to them.

An analysis of health records, of workplace incidents, misses, availed sick leaves, insurance claims will provide a wealth of information about their causes.

Step 2 – Assess the Risk

Once the hazards are known and listed, the next step is to understand whether each of these hazards has the potential to cause minor discomfort or can cause serious injury or even death. At the same time, it is also important to evaluate the likelihood of the occurrence of these dangers.

The Severity of Harm

The severity and extent of harm that may be caused by a hazard can be understood by evaluating the following aspects:

  • Understand the different types of dangers which may arise. Cooking oil present in kitchens may spill leading to trips and falls. It may also catch fire, which then may cause burns or even death.
  • Evaluate the different aspects such as the distance of the workers from the hazard sources, the number of people who are typically present in and around the workplace, etc. which in turn will have an impact on the level of danger.
  • Examine if the event could trigger other potential hazards. A can of cooking oil catching fire could lead to a much larger fire. The presence of toxic chemicals at an automotive business nearby can complicate the situation much further. EcoSafe Washer can help you with cleaning those chemicals easily and in an eco-friendly manner.

Rate the Likelihood of Harm

The severity of harm that may be caused by a danger cannot be considered in isolation. It needs to be viewed in conjunction with the probability of it occurring, considering if the event is likely to occur rarely (and only in exceptional circumstances) or is it certainly likely to occur.

Together, both these factors will help in assessing the risk associated with each hazard. However, you first need to understand the difference between a risk and a hazard.

Step 3 – Control Risks

In order to control risks, start thinking about the hierarchy of controls. Not sure what that means? Take a look at this video and start implementing these methods.


The ideal way to eliminate the dangers to health and safety is by removing the hazard itself. This would be the most effective way to remove the risks from the workplaces.

Bullies in offices need to be eliminated. However, this is often easier said than done. In case, the bully is the leader of the workers union or has powerful support, then it may not be possible to remove that person from the situation.

Substitute or Isolate:

It is not always possible to completely eliminate all hazards. Cooking oils are required in kitchens, chemicals in factories where they are raw materials in the manufacturing process etc.

Where it is not possible to eliminate, you should try to minimise risks by substituting hazardous substances with safer products or processes. The exposure to the dangerous chemicals used for cleaning automotive parts can be replaced by harmless, yet effective cleaning systems.

Another approach is to isolate hazards using physical controls. Sharp edges and electrical points can be covered with guards, explosive substances should be kept in remote locations, operate machinery remotely.

Use Human Behaviour and Supervision:

Where substituting or isolating the hazard is not possible, in such situations people have to be protected through processes which rely on human behaviour. These include heeding to warning signs installed in workplaces, wearing protective clothing etc.

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Step 4 – Keep Records

Keeping records of the risk management process demonstrates potential compliance with the WHS Act and Regulations. This record should include details of any hazards noted in the risk assessment, and action is taken to reduce or eliminate risk.

It also helps to provide a very useful basis for review when undertaking subsequent risk assessments. The risk assessment is an extremely useful working document. Make sure it is not kept locked away in a filing cabinet, but that you actually read and review it.

Step 5 – Review the Risks and Controls

A risk assessment must be kept under review in order to:

  • ensure that agreed safe working practices continue to be applied (e.g. that management’s safety instructions are respected by supervisors and line managers); and
  • take account of any new working practices, new machinery or more demanding work targets.

Get More Help

We hope this 5-step process will help you conduct a risk assessment survey at your workplace and get you started on your WHS Act compliance process.

If you are not sure whether you have conducted an adequate assessment of the risks present in your workplace in order to comply with WHS requirements, remember you can always get free advice from Alsco. If you are unsure of what to do, Alsco can make it simple for you.

Delay no more. Review and minimise your risks now. For enhanced safety call 1300 077 391 Australia-wide.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Images by PEO ACWA

Disclaimer – These articles are provided to supply general health, safety, and green information to people responsible for the same in their organisation. The articles are general in nature and do not substitute for legal and/or professional advice. We always suggest that organisations obtain information specific to their needs.